BETHLEHEM-WOODBURY — After discussions about changes in graduation requirements and hearing a presentation on the success of the Vo-Ag program at Nonnewaug High School, the Region 14 Board of Education, meeting Monday, February 3, agreed to spend an extra $99,058 as part of its share of a project to construct three new buildings for the Vo-Ag program.

Finance Director Wayne McAllister explained the cost of the project increased after it went out to bid. Through the hard efforts of Region 14 Director of Agriscience Edward Belinsky, the district was able to persuade the state to provide additional support for the project. The state agreed to fund an additional $396,000, but the district needs to match that with the $99,058 as its share.

Previously, the district had set aside $220,942 in capital reserve funds. The new money will also come from the capital reserve account. The total for the district’s share is now approximately $320,000. The entire project will cost approximately $1.5 to $1.6 million.

In giving an update on the program earlier in the meeting, Mr. Belinsky said the project supports the construction of three new buildings: an arena, a storage building, and a sap building. Region 14 will be the first school in the state to have an arena for riding or driving horses, he said. It will allow students to have a greater hands-on experience with horses. The arena will also be used for other purposes, including the handling of livestock and possibly for dog agility testing.

Mr. Belinsky also noted the donation of several horse-drawn vehicles, including a driving cart, a sleigh, and a driving buggy. The board later formally accepted the donation of the refurbished antique vehicles from a farm in Ridgefield, valued at $8,985.

The Agriscience program offers many opportunities for students, Mr. Belinsky said. The agricultural industry in Connecticut is a $4.5 billion industry that needs educated, skilled workers. Like many other industries, agriculture is now a very science-based industry that relies on technology. Students need a strong background in those areas, as well as in problem solving.

In addition to horse management, the local program offers students courses in the traditional fields of animal husbandry and agri-mechanics, as well as landscaping, hydroponics and aquaponics. Many students signing up for the program are currently interested in the hydroponics and aquaponics fields, he said.

The capital project includes two other buildings, a storage building and a sap building. The storage building will help expand the nursery/landscaping curriculum, a field which represents about half of the $4.5 billion agricultural industry in the state.

Mr. Belinsky envisions using part of that building for maintenance of the program’s equipment, including mowers. The sap building will replace one that was constructed by students many years ago.

Nonnewaug High School Principal Pamela Sordi, Coordinator of Teaching and Learning Wendy Nelson Kauffman and Director of School Counseling Wendy Yatsenick presented a draft of proposed new graduation requirements.

The state has changed its minimum graduation requirements, prompting districts across Connecticut to adjust their own requirements to meet the state’s.

Region 14 is in a better position than some districts, Ms. Sordi said. The district already requires 23 credits to graduate, so moving to 25 credits is not as difficult as it will be for school districts currently requiring only 20 credits.

The new requirements, when adopted, will impact current freshmen, not sophomores, juniors or seniors, who will all graduate under the old requirements.

The old requirements included four credits in English, four credits in math, three credits in science, three credits in social studies, one credit in physical education, a half credit in health, a half credit in technology, one credit in fine arts or vocational and six credits in electives, for a total of 23. A half credit represents a half year course. A full credit is a full-year course.

The new state requirements are nine credits in humanities, nine credits in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), physical education, health, open electives. And a mastery-based diploma assessment, for a total of 25 credits.

Nonnewaug is proposing to meet the humanities requirement through four credits in English, 2.5 credits in social studies (including world history, U.S. history and civics), one credit in a world language and 1.5 credits in humanities electives, to include one credit in fine or applied arts.

Nonnewaug is proposing to meet the STEM requirement through three credits in math, three credits in science, to include biology, and three credits in STEM electives.

There will be a requirement for one credit in physical education, one credit in health, one credit going toward the mastery-based diploma requirement and four credits in electives, for a total of 25 credits.

The new program might require the addition of a second health teacher, School Superintendent Joseph Olzacki said, and possibly another part-time teacher. 

A high percentage of students are already taking 25 credits, Ms. Sordi said. The school day provides time for up to 28 credits over the course of four years, if students filled each period with a class.

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